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Tarentum beer distributor LaRusse auctioning memorabilia

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 11:38 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Phil LaRusse, owner of the now closed LaRusse Distributing in West Tarentum, holds a ceramic holiday Budweiser beer mug, one of hundreds that will be auctioned off in lots on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
A 5-foot-long ceramic Budweiser Clydesdales set from Anheuser Busch is one of the items at the LaRusse Distributing auction that is expected to draw the attention of many bidders on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
The inventory of LaRusse Distributing staff SUVs will be auctioned on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the West Tarentum building. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

By the end of the year, LaRusse Distributing's 71-year presence in Tarentum and the Alle-Kiski Valley could be all but gone.

The master distributor of Anheuser-Busch products was sold in September to Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale for an undisclosed price.

LaRusse's vehicles, equipment and Anheuser-Busch memorabilia will be auctioned off Saturday.

A real estate agent is working to sell the two West Tarentum warehouses, said Phil LaRusse Jr., 65, of Allegheny Township.

LaRusse's father, named Phil LaRuss before he added the “e” to his last name, started a small distributing business, Tarentum Beverage Co., in 1941 near the current site of Gatto Cycle Shop in East Tarentum.

The business moved to several locations in West Tarentum before setting up shop in 1988 at the corner of West Sixth Avenue and East Street, also is referred to as LaRusse Boulevard.

Phil LaRusse Jr. said the decision to sell wasn't easy.

“The decision ... it took us probably almost a year to come to a final decision,” he said. “Once we made the decision, it probably took another year to do it.”

LaRusse said the opportunities to grow — both in terms of building space and sales territory — were limited.

“It was time to get out,” he said.

The LaRusse business has been a master Anheuser-Busch distributor since 1949, meaning all retail distributors in northern Allegheny and Westmoreland counties and all of Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties must buy exclusively from LaRusse.

“It is bittersweet,” LaRusse said. “We had a really good run.”

Auction items

During that run, LaRusse has collected all sorts of Anheuser-Busch memorabilia.

Dozens of commemorative items featuring the logos of Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Stella Artois and more will be auctioned off Saturday by Pittsburgh-based auctioneer Harry Davis & Co.

Beer steins, glasses, taps, signs and sporting equipment are plentiful. There also are more unique collectibles such as a small Budweiser-stamped Weber grill, a go-cart and a guitar with a LandShark Lager logo.

The iconic Budweiser Clydesdales are prominently featured on many items. LaRusse was responsible for bringing the real horses to the Alle-Kiski Valley three times, most recently in 2009.

A variety of Anheuser-Busch trailers — from a large, 22-bay trailer for wholesale deliveries to a small, promotional trailer that can be pulled by a golf cart — are up for grabs.

Also on the block will be seven sport utility vehicles, fork lifts, office furniture, computers and three large-format printers that can make signs and banners.

“Just about everything in here is for sale,” LaRusse said as he walked through the second-floor offices above the warehouse.

A few exceptions include a small, pewter rendering of the Clydesdales; a 1950s-era Budweiser sign that LaRusse believes is one of his oldest collectibles; and a 1950s promotional calendar for the Tarentum Beverage Co. that was found in an antique shop.

“Some of it is hard to see go,” LaRusse said. “Some I won't miss at all.”

Career highlights

LaRusse said he didn't always intend to make his living at the distributorship.

He taught at Valley High School for eight years before his father said he'd have to sell the business unless his son took on a larger role.

LaRusse said some highlights of his career include helping his father triple the number of cases sold just a few years after he joined the business full time in 1978. By the early 1980s, LaRusse was selling one million cases of beer per year; that number since has risen to about 1.7 million cases.

“It was nice when my sons came into the company, too,” LaRusse said of Mark and David LaRusse. Phil LaRusse and his wife, Ann, have a daughter, Susan Eckart.

LaRusse said most of his 30 employees have found new jobs, either with Fuhrer or elsewhere.

He said many have worked for his family for 20 or more years; Bill Marmo came on board in the 1970s before LaRusse, himself, he said.

“The hardest part was telling the employees” about the sale, LaRusse said. “I was so proud of them — all but one stayed until the end.”

LaRusse said he has no major plans for his retirement. He hopes to return to volunteering for People Able to Lend Support, a Highmark-sponsored initiative that helps senior citizens run errands like grocery shopping and doctor appointments.

LaRusse said he and his wife may travel and he'll look into volunteering with regional theaters, as he fondly remembers his brief time working with Valley High's drama productions.

“One of the best parts (of running the business) was it gave me the time and resources to help the community,” he said. “The community gave us their business, and we had to give something back.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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